2009 Baltimore Marathon – Race Report

This was my 3rd Baltimore Running Festival, and I stayed with Summer each time. I set a new marathon PR beating my goal by 4 minutes. I ate some amazing food. And met some of the coolest people in Baltimore (shout out to Constellation Energy).

First off, some kudos

First off, big ups to Summer for hosting me for the weekend. This was my 3rd Baltimore Running Festival, and she’s put me up each time. She drove me around the city (thank goodness), cooked (amazing food) and introduced me to some of the coolest people ever. Her friends are awesome.

My experience

This is one of the first races I’ve ever set a specific time goal. I was attempting 3:50 (an 8:46/mi pace). My only other road marathon (in March 2007) I finished in 4:19, and last week’s trail marathon I did in 4:01. A 3:50 should be attainable, so long as my legs aren’t shot from back-to-back weekends of 26.2+ races. I felt good going in, but I just couldn’t be sure.

Beautiful weather

I was blessed with beautiful weather, yet again. Somewhere in the low 70s at the start. Dropped to the 60s halfway through. A few rain drops to cool things off, but they only lasted for a couple miles. The weather was right for a fast time.

The first mile was slow because I was dodging the mass of people at the start. It opened up quickly, and I found my 8:45 pace, so I thought. It turned out I actually found an 8:20 pace, and I maintained it for the first 6 miles or so. I got to mile 7 about two minutes ahead of schedule.

Halfway point

At the halfway point, I was five minutes ahead of schedule. I started to think I might break 3:45. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I was pushing pretty hard, and there were already quite a few hills that I ran right through. I knew more hills were coming, and wondered what my early, fast pace might mean for later.

I ran through mile 20 still ahead of pace, and hit mile 21 right at 3:00, four minutes ahead of pace. But just like the race last weekend, my legs turned into Jello, and I had to walk.

I pushed through it better than I did last weekend. I was able to run through the pain. And I did still have an outside chance at 3:45 as I neared the finish, but I didn’t quite make it. 3:46:03. A new PR, and goal accomplished, with 4 minutes to spare.

The Baltimore Marathon course

I consider Baltimore a pretty tough marathon course. There are many long, gradual hills throughout the race. Beginning, middle and end, although the last few miles probably have the fewest hills. You run through the nice areas of the city, as well as the not-so-nice.

Fan support

The fan support this year was incredible. There were more people cheering than I remember 2 years ago when I ran the half. Even another guy commented to me during the race, and he’s run it 5 years in a row.

  • High school bands & cheerleading squads.
  • Little kids with “free high 5” paper hands.
  • Homemade aid stations with gummy bears, pretzels, chips, bananas, oranges, peanut m&ms, gels and even beer.

Even the “bad” sections of town had parents & their kids out on the front steps, clapping & smiling.

What I learned

  • You will perform better when you have a time goal you’re trying to achieve (it helps you mentally push through)
  • Conserving energy early on makes a big difference
  • I know many people like to ‘run the whole thing’ (myself included), but I do believe you will achieve a better time if you take walking breaks (unless you’re from Kenya)
  • The city of Baltimore has a few hills
  • My legs were built to run no more than 20 miles at a time. I need to train them to do more.
  • The more you acknowledge & appreciate the fans that cheer you on… the louder & more enthusiastically they cheer for everyone else.

Looking forward

Now it’s time for me to take a little break before my 50-miler at JFK in November. No more races until this one. I don’t have a goal yet for JFK, but I’m thinking my goal should not include a time… it should just be to finish within the time limit. Why? Because that’s all I need to qualify for the 100-miler next June.

The result

3:46:03 – a PR
516/3132 – overall
403/2022 – men
74/310 – M25-29

2009 Triple Lakes Marathon – Race Report

A small, trail marathon in Greensboro, NC, the Triple Lakes Trail Race has 40-mile, marathon, half-marathon & relay options. All distances come fully equipped with tree roots. Be prepared to bite it.

Be prepared to bite it

Get ready to do some root jumpin’. If you plan on running this race, you better watch your step. One quick glimpse at the lake and you’ll end up face first in the dirt. Trust me. I did… twice.

There are 186,394 roots. Precisely. I counted.

2 interesting guys at the start

For what it’s worth, I don’t like Greensboro’s road system. I can’t figure it out. So I consider myself lucky to have just made it to the start. I’m glad I did. I met 2 interesting guys before the race.

Abran saw my G.E.E.R. shirt from the 50k I ran last week. He was there too (he did the 100k). Today he was doing the 40-miler. This guy is a machine. He ran the first few miles of the Old Dominion 100 with a buddy of mine, Ryan Foster, who I paced during the very same race from mile 75-86. Abe is also quite fast. He finished in the top 5 or so of this race, and the race last weekend. I’m sure I’ll run into him again.

I also spoke with a man from Indiana. He’s trying to run a marathon in all 50 states. He’s currently at 22. I didn’t catch his name, but wished him luck.

The race began

I started slow, as usual. The first 2 miles were on road. As we approached the single track, I felt the need to speed up. I wanted to get in front of some of these folks so I didn’t feel held up by them once we were on the trail. I was probably running about an 8:45 pace. No way I would keep that up, but it felt good at the time, so I went with it.

I looked at my watch at mile 7… 1:00. OK. Wow. Not bad. Mile 10… 1:23. I’m really not this fast.

Some conversation

I ran with Susan from Charlotte and David the adventure racer for a mile or two. We talked running and adventure racing, mostly. Very nice people. I decided to continue my surprisingly quick pace, and ran ahead.

Miles 16 and 17 brought about a few more hills than the first half of the course. Not a good sign for my legs. At mile 18 I ate dirt for the 2nd time. This was my legs way of saying, “Dude, slow down. We’re tired.” Well, I didn’t listen, and hit mile 20 right at 3:00. I was on pace for a sub-4 marathon, and at that very moment, I made that my goal.

Hitting the wall

Seconds later, my legs got really upset, and turned into jello. 4 hours was going to be tough. The last 10k was a 50/50 mix of running & walking, but I pushed through as best I could. Just missed my goal: 4:01:31. Still 18 minutes better than my only other marathon (which was completely flat, and 100% on roads). This was a huge improvement.

Oh, and both Susan & David (whom I had passed earlier) went on to finish before me. Nice race, guys.

Description of the course

A moderate trail course, with many 20-30 ft. uphill/downhill spurts. No long ascents or descents. Much of the course is pretty flat. But there are roots everywhere. The roots are without a doubt the most challenging aspect of the course. Almost the entire course is covered by trees so the sun is not a factor. Aid stations are positioned well. People are friendly. And it’s a small race. 200-300 total people between the 40-mile, marathon, half-marathon and relay.

Looking forward

Next weekend I’m running the Baltimore Marathon (thanks to the generous hospitality of my friend Summer, who is putting me up for the weekend… for the 3rd year in a row). I wasn’t sure how my legs would handle the first 2 races of my 3 weekend stretch. But since they performed well, it’s only fitting to test them one last time.

My goal for Baltimore is 3:50. If I can run a trail marathon in 4:01, I should be able to do a road marathon in 3:50. Cut out the wrong turns, the falls, and the lengthy stops to refill at the aid stations, and I should be able to do it. That’s an 8:46/mi pace.

Hopefully I can treat myself to a marathon PR, and then 5 weeks off before the 50-miler at JFK.

The result

4:01:31
27/110 – overall
6/19 – M20-29

2009 Bad to the Bone 50k – Race Report

The Bad to the Bone 50k has 8,800 ft. of elevation gain through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It’s a challenging course, but offers some pristine views of the moutainside. One of the most enjoyable races I’ve done so far.

A true ultra

Right from the beginning, this felt like a true ultra. I spent the night in a friend’s condo at Wintergreen Resort (thanks to the Cushnie’s). I woke up at 4:15am to buckets’o’fog. Visibility was zero. A chilly morning, in the low 50s, but great running weather. Overcast. Forecast called for rain later in the day.

Going vertical right from the start

I arrived at check-in, got everything ready to go, and last minute decided to ditch the jacket. I was hoping I’d warm up as soon as I started running. After a 1-mile warmup on the entrance road, we climbed a 2-mile section, straight up, on fairly rough terrain. The 8,800 ft. of elevation gain this race advertised… it was no joke. And it started right away.

Road runner turned trail runner

A half hour in, I witnessed a conversion: road runner to trail runner. I heard a man behind me say, “Wow! This is beautiful. I’m never running another road race again.” Sir, welcome to the club. We’re thrilled to have you.

Ridiculous up-and-down

About 10 miles in, we descended this dirt mountain road… for 4.5 miles. At the bottom, we turned around and ran straight back up. Correction: we walked back up. No hill work can prepare you for something like this. It was ridiculously awesome. I must have passed at least a dozen people with my patented power hike.

We ran along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a mile or two before heading back onto the trails. Stopped at a few more aid stations. I met a nice couple from Illinois. We ascended Bald Mountain, reached 3,500 ft., and I turned around and ran straight back down toward the finish. I ran almost the entire last 5 miles (which is unusual for me), but that’s just how fresh I felt. It just started to rain too, but at that point, it wasn’t a factor.

One of my favorites

This was one of the best races I’ve done, in terms of both performance & fun. I’m looking forward to doing more trail ultras, especially difficult ones with technical terrain & lots of ups and downs.

Course description

It’s challenging. Compared to other 50ks out there, the 8,800 ft. of elevation gain is amongst the most I’ve seen. There are a few 1-2 mile stretches of pretty technical terrain, most of which are on ascents & descents. A majority of the race is on dirt single track, with 5-6 miles on paved road, and ~9 miles on dirt road. There are several beautiful views from the mountainside (if the fog dies down).

What I Learned

  • 8,800 ft. of elevation gain in a 50k is no joke. It’s also a lot of fun.
  • I’ll always get passed on the flat, road sections.
  • I’m slow. And will probably always be slow. (see previous bullet)
  • I love uphills & downhills, basically all the more difficult sections. They’re just more fun.
  • Running downhill on rocky terrain is awesome. Short, quick steps, almost hopping from rock to rock, hips turned one way, then the other, focusing on every step, letting gravity do the work. Ah, it’s paradise.
  • The longer the race, the better I place.
  • Mountains are a) beautiful¬† b) humbling¬† c) a bit scary at times¬† d) my second home

The result

6:24:35
23/82 – overall

2009 3Sports Sprint Triathlon – Race Report

The 3Sports Sprint Triathlon just outside Richmond, VA is a great entry-level triathlon. It consists of a 300m pool swim, 20k bike, 5k run. I continue to perform poorly on the bike, and excellent on the run. I always have spent more time on my feet than on my ass.

300m pool swim, 20k bike, 5k run

The course

It’s identical to that of the HHHunt PowerSprint which takes place in May. So if you’re looking to see how you’ve improved from one race to another, these two are just far enough apart to get some decent training in-between.

The Swim

My swim was almost identical to the PowerSprint. I ended up being a few seconds faster. This race only had 10 seconds in between each swimmer (as opposed to 15 sec), but the pool was no more crowded than it was for the PowerSprint.

The Bike

I tried something new. I had my shoes already attached to my bike. When I entered T1, I threw on my shades and helmet, and ran barefoot to the mounting area. My feet were on top of my shoes (not inside of them yet), and I pedaled out onto the course. As I was coasting, I worked my feet into my shoes.

Doing what the elites do = Fail

I saw the elites doing this, so I thought I’d give it a try. It makes sense to cut down on total time because you’re putting your shoes on while moving, instead of while standing still. But it’s definitely something you should practice before doing it in a race. It took me almost 3 full minutes to get both shoes on, and one of them still wasn’t securely on my foot. It probably cost me more time than if I had just put them on in the transition area.

My chain popped at about mile 2. Stopping, putting it back on, and getting back up to speed, probably cost me about 2 minutes total time. A little bummer, but the fact that I got it back on and successfully finished the next 10 miles is something I’m proud of. I’m far from the world’s greatest bike mechanic.

The run

Hot damn. I continue to surprise and impress myself. Completed the run in 22:54 (a 7:22/mi pace). I did take the bike a little easier, and focused on pushing myself on the run. But that’s still a great time for me. And it makes perfect sense because I’ve been running 40-50 mile weeks for the past 5 weeks. Training works.

Smart (or dumb) training

One other note to mention is that I ran 22 miles the day before the race. So I wouldn’t say I was well-rested, but when I needed them, my legs came through.

This will probably be my last tri of the season. I’ll continue to focus on my training for the Old Dominion 100 in June 2010. I’ll most likely either continue training for ultra runs, or try my hand at some longer distance tris.

The result

300m Swim, 6:25
T1, 1:27
20k Bike, 43:12
T2, 0:41
5k Run, 22:54
Overall, 1:14:38

Between a Rock & a Hard Place – Book Review

A very brief book review of “Between a Rock & a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.

This is a very early attempt at writing book reviews. It’s still a work in progress.

Aron is very descriptive of the landscape. He describes every single detail of the trails, rocks, cliffs, mountains and scenery. I recommend reading the definition part of the appendix before beginning the book. This will give you a better understanding of the terminology that he uses throughout the book.

After he introduces his accident, he goes into flashback mode and talks about his childhood. He does an OK job of building his character. You understand the kind of person he is, and the thoughts that go through his head during his life-threatening situation start to make sense.

Birthdays when you get older

My 26-year-old opinion on how you should spend birthdays as you get older. Quit complaining about getting old, and celebrate your birthday for all the great things each year has added to your life… and all the great things that the upcoming year will bring.

When you’re young, you celebrate the act of getting older. It’s exciting. You look forward to it.

At 13, you become a teenager. You officially have an obligation to disobey everything your parents tell you.

At 16, you have a huge party and get your driver’s license. Every parent’s nightmare. Every kid’s dream.

At 18, you’re officially an adult. With 21 comes the alcohol. And maybe the last milestone is the car rental privilege at 25.

After that, you dread adding another year to your age. Instead of looking forward to your next birthday, you do everything you can to prevent it from happening. And when you realize it can’t be prevented, you deny it.

The Alternative

Here’s what you should do instead. Celebrate your youth. At 40 years old, you’re not old. You’re mature, you’re experienced. But for many of you, you’re just getting started. Celebrate the relationships you’ve built, and the many fun years ahead. Celebrate your health, and the great shape you’ve kept your body in. Celebrate your mind, what you’ve taught yourself, and how you’ve learned and grown. Celebrate your spouse, your kids, your grandkids.

And maybe the most important thing to celebrate is what you have not yet achieved. Set a goal (or two or three) that feeds your passion. You’ll start looking forward to that extra candle on your cake each year because it will, once again, have meaning.

2009 Xterra Xduro 21k – Race Report

A challenging course around the James River in Richmond, VA. This race has a few unique elements: stairs, storm drains and the Mayan Ruins. Not to mention some ridiculous humidity. It’s a fun race, but for me, it was a relaxing 13 miles in preparation for 8 more later in the day.

Xterra hosts a series of off-road events all over the country. They come to Richmond once or twice a year to host a few trail runs on Saturday, followed by off-road triathlons on Sunday.

Course description

This is not your ordinary 21k (~13 miles). You run up and down 30+ stairs 3 times. You climb the Mayan Ruins. You run through a sewer drain… twice. And you have to navigate the extremely hilly, confusingly curvy switchbacks of Forrest Hill Park. This course is sure to challenge even the most conditioned endurance trail runner.

My approach

This was the first race I could remember where I didn’t push myself to compete. I didn’t care who I beat or where I finished. My goal was to get the mileage in, keep my heart rate low, and be smart up and down the hills. A year from now I’ll be running a 100 miler through much more severe elevation, so I better start practicing now.

Back of the pack

I really enjoyed running in the back of the pack. I talked with a few nice people along the way, and even went out of my way to pick up a beer bottle on the ground and throw it out.

I’d say my strategy worked well. By far my worst finish all year in any race… but I had enough gas to run another 8 tonight… and I felt great.

21 total miles for the day.

The result

2:22:04
148/177 – overall
22/24 – age group

Running with a stranger at Old Dominion

A complete stranger asked me to run 11 miles with him, at night, through the mountains, for 4 hours… and I seized the opportunity. I learned a few things in the process, and I now call him my friend.

Today I did something I don’t often do: I ran with someone else. His name is Ryan Foster, and he was attempting his first ever 100 mile race, the Old Dominion 100 in Woodstock, VA.

How it happened

I’ve never met Ryan before. He was going to run the same 50 mile race as me back in Sept. ’08, but the race got cancelled. Ryan had my email address, along with about 50 others, and he emailed us all looking for a pacer. I told him I might be interested, and a week before the race, he emailed me back, “Dave, are you still interested?”

Meeting up in no man’s land

We met up at mile 75 at 7pm. I briefly introduced myself. We shook hands. I helped him take his shoes off. 8 minutes later he smiled at me and said, “You ready to go for a run?”

Little did we know it would be a hike/climb… not a run. This was the toughest 11 mile stretch that either of us had ever faced. But it turned out to be a pleasure spending it together.

The experience

We talked about running, work, grad school, his 1-yr-old son, future plans, and even the invisible mice he thought he spotted around mile 80 (apparently these hallucinations common). We also went 10-15 minutes without saying a word. I helped him up off the ground a few times after falling. I tied his shoe, and even re-pinned his bib to his shorts. Needless to say, we got close.

Two complete strangers to one another, acting like we’d been running buddies since high school. 4 hours later, I dropped him off at an aid station to find his wife waiting there to surprise him.

The lesson

If you haven’t run with someone lately, you should. If you’ve never talked to a stranger, I recommend it. If you get the chance to run with a stranger, at night, in the dark, through the mountains, for 4 hours… don’t pass it up.

Ryan finished in 21:53:47, 6th place overall, easily achieving his goal of under 24 hours.